Originally recruited to serve by a former board member, she feels she is uniquely aware of teacher/parent issues in the education system, able to approach issues from their point of view. She knows what it takes to succeed in the classroom, and in the end, the teacher’s success feeds directly into the students’ successes.
Ms. Berg was a science teacher, entering Hendry County schools in 1976. Early on she learned to make do in her classes with what she could cobble together. For years she pushed for the needs of science and math teachers. These days STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes are getting much more attention in education, but that’s where her heart remains.
She is also a proponent of diversity on the school board and is proud of the different points of view already represented there: teacher, small business, big business, and parent. All these points of view are essential, she feels, to achieve balance.
She was also the only female on the board for a long time. As of this election, there will be three females on the board: current member Stephanie Busin, Amanda Nelson, who is running in this election without opposition, and either Ms. Berg or her opponent. It will, perhaps, be the first time women have held the majority on the school board.
For 13 years, Ms. Berg served as director of the Edison Community College LaBelle Center, with offices in LaBelle, Clewiston and Moore Haven.
“It was a wonderful experience,” she recalls, pointing to it as one of the great leadership opportunities of her career. After retiring from teaching at LaBelle Middle School, she earned a degree in Education Leadership through the University of Central Florida at the FGCU campus. Her doctorate focused on state services, federal grants and outreach for middle and high schools. As director of the center, she focused on financial aid for students, ran all three offices and oversaw dual enrollment.
In recent years she said the board’s major goals have been:
1. Outsourcing food service. This hotly contended issue has turned around cafeteria operations in all county schools. The change to a private company has resulted in a lot less waste – meaning kids are actually eating more of the food provided – and the program is much less expensive. All students are now eligible to receive free breakfast and lunch at school.
2. Policy revisions. School district guidelines have been restructured and are now available online for parents at all times.
Currently the board is looking into providing Pre-K classes in the mid-county area, including Montura, Ledeca and Pioneer Plantation, possibly by the end of the next school year. Eventually, it could lead to an elementary school there in the future.
As always, finance is a major ongoing issue for the school district. Ms. Berg vividly recalls the experience of having to lay off staff when the economy got so bad and is working to avoid that in the future. When things went sour, the board had its required 3 percent reserve, but that was quickly wiped out. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Ms. Berg pushed for a 7 percent reserve, which she said was finally accepted. Even that, she believes, is slowly eroding due to a continuing increase in students, needs and programs.
Because attracting and keeping good teachers is tough, she also said she wants Hendry County to “grow” its own teachers, who will have a strong connection to the community and be more likely to stay.
Ms. Berg has been working with the Hendry County Education Foundation to foster community and business partners for education and also to take advantage of state matching funds.
She sees the biggest challenges facing Hendry County education as the sheer number of kids coming into the system and the increase in testing required by the state.
She points out that classrooms are no longer student driven and so much required testing depresses teacher spontaneity and ideas. Teachers used to be able to bring in ideas from outside to stimulate students’ interest. Now, she said, it’s all about testing.
Ms. Berg said she is most proud of the opportunity to influence so many children. One of her most cherished moments, she commented, was seeing a former student at a school awards ceremony in Fort Myers. She didn’t even recognize her former student, now a grown man, but he approached her and thanked her saying, “It’s because of you that my son is here.”